Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thank-You Notes

This has little to do with publishing, but I’m guessing we can all use a break from work now and then and this really is an issue that’s been bugging me lately.

Whatever happened to thank-you notes?

I work in a business where it’s expected of me to send a response, albeit via SASE, for correspondence (re: submissions) you send to me. It seems, however, that we are a rare breed. Recently BookEnds was interviewing candidates for an office assistant opening and it was astonishing to me how few sent a thank-you note after the interview, and those who did didn’t even take the time to send it via snail mail, but sent a very informal email instead. When talking to others about this phenomenon, I was shocked to learn that many companies will now interview candidates and never again contact them—not even a form postcard, not even an email, not even a return phone call. After an interview! After the potential job candidate took the time to travel to the job, dress in her best interview clothes, and spend a boring hour, sometimes two, trying to charm the interviewers. How does she find out she didn’t get the job? She just never hears from them again.

I don’t think I’m a prude and usually I don’t even think I’m that old-fashioned, but are thank-you notes really prudish and old-fashioned? What has happened in our world that it’s more common to send a letter of complaint than it is a letter of thanks?

I’d like to think that technology and busy lives have not completely eroded good sense and good etiquette, and luckily I am reminded of this periodically when I get a thank-you note for a rejection letter, conference meeting, or just a brief email exchange. I want to thank all of you for my file of thank-yous (right next to the author beware file) for reminding me that there are actually more authors I want to work with than those I’d like to beware of.

—Jessica

21 comments:

Sariah S. Wilson said...

Unfortunately, I think the picture you paint is how most businesses in the world today operate. For the past few years, I can't think of any business that sent word/called/emailed a member of my family after they went on an interview to say they hadn't gotten the job. The lack of communication was their answer.

This drives my mom crazy - many years ago she worked in HR and she said they would send out rejection letters to resumes they received. It seems no one does that now.

Common courtesy would be nice, but it seems to be one of those things that's slowly dying.

I've read other agents saying that they dislike getting thank yous for rejections because they don't need more paper on their desks.

Angelle said...

Most companies don't send rejection / no letters to anyone. You know you made it if you get a phone call.

When I was interviewing for jobs, I always sent a formal thank you note to interviewers via email because the companies I interviewed said they make decisions within 2-3 days and also email is a preferred choice of communication for many business people (especially true for consulting or sales where many people aren't in the office very much).

ello said...

Email is the preferred route for thank you notes these days in most large companies. I guess for the very fact that nobody wants anymore paper. But given email is the chosen route, it is inconceivable to me that people do not think to send rejection letters in any format whatsoever. And email is one of the easiest!

I spent a whole day, taking off from work, to interview with a large prestigious company that had me meet 11 people in one day. I sent 11 people nice thank you notes and I never heard from them again. I found out through a friend that they hired internally, but common courtesy dictates some form of response to the person that was interviewed doesn't it? It's pretty rude to leave a person hanging like that. I didn't interview anywhere else for a long time hoping that this company (which was a perfect match for me) would come through. Talk about leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

This is a huge pet peeve for me. Lack of courtesy. When I conducted interviews, I was completely indifferent to thank you notes, unless I didn't get one. That I would take note of.

Maprilynne said...

I love thank-you notes . . . getting them, sending them, everything. However, with literary agents, I will usually only send one if someone reviewed my full because 1.) You people are very busy, and 2.) They probably won't remember who I am if I didn't get that far.

You know what else I love? Thank-you gifts, when they're warranted.:)

Maprilynne

Kate Douglas said...

I'm often asked to donate books and/or gifts to various charities and chapter raffles and believe me, I remember which ones send me a thank you note! I do believe, though, that writing a thank you note is, sadly, a dying courtesy--as a child, I had to write my "thank yous" the day after my birthday or Christmas, so it's become an ingrained habit! Courtesy is never a bad thing--the idea of a company not acknowledging an interview is beyond me!

2readornot said...

Yeah, it's sad. Even in publishing, I know the 'thank-yous' are few and far between. I wrote three thank you notes after a conference I attended last spring (just to agents/editors who had given great talks) -- and I've sent out thank yous to various agents/editors when they respond in an especially thoughtful or personal way. But I'm just as guilty as the next guy -- I certainly don't send out thank yous for every rejection! :)

Anonymous said...

I received a really wonderful thank-you note fairly recently from a library. I had seen a story on CNN about the grief they were taking for their Spanish Language section and when the interviewer showed the section it was pitifully small--maybe 10 books. So I organized several friends and we raided the Spanish Language section of Amazon. The woman who sent the note took the time to fill me in on what had happened after the story aired, how much support they'd gotten from the community, how many books they'd been sent from every part of the US and how their Spanish story time was increasing.

I like to send thank-you notes although sometimes they can be challenging. (Invariably there's the wedding present that you cannot identify, for example.)

I don't send thank-you notes for rejections as a rule, as someone else mentioned, because having read so much about the massive slushpiles you all wade through, I sort of think more paper is NOT what you need! (This topic came up fairly recently on Miss Snark, actually, and she said something like "sending thank you notes is fine. So is not sending them.")

cm allison said...

Don't feel too much like an old "fuddy-duddy", because if you are, then I am also, and I refuse to think that way! I send thank-yous for interviews, gifts, even a nice dinner out on someone else. Haven't for rejection letters yet (have only gotten one so far, rest are out in limbo somewhere), but then, as others have said, it was a form rejection, and have been told most agents have enough on their plates. HOWEVER, if I get one that an agent has taken the time to make personal notes on, then I will!

Leo said...

I agree with you and unfortunately it is a dying courtesy. I have been to many interviews where the company never responded. Not even a postcard.
It's a relief to hear someone still appreciates and still sends thank you notes.
Perhaps we can start a trend!

BookEnds, LLC said...

Let me clarify that I don't at all expect a thank you note for a rejection letter (even the personal ones), but I do think it's awfully sweet when I take the time to send a personal rejection and someone was touched enough to want to respond with a thank you. A thank you for being rejected is strange so I appreciate that somehow I've made a difference. And this certainly was not meant as a call for thank you notes. Just a thought on something I miss. Because I too love writing thank you notes and think they are essential.

--jessica

December Quinn said...

I always send thank you notes. But then, I also read Miss Manners for fun.


Over here (the UK) most places still send rejection notes for resumes and after interviews. Which is nice. At least you know.

Bernita said...

A form rejection to a query in which the writer has already thanked the agent for their time and patience does not - in my Blue Book - require an extra thank you.
However, any specific comment by an agent deserves both acknowledgement and thanks.

amy m said...

I can only think of a few times when I sent in a resume/went on a job interview and got a response unless it was to say I was hired.

I wasn't aware that a written thank you note was needed for an interview, though I've always thanked them in person for taking their time to see me, etc. But I will definitely remember that for the future!

And if I got a non-form letter rejection note from an agent, believe me, I would thank them for taking the time to do so! To get some sort of feedback that could help me would definitely be appreciated and would not go unnoticed.

I've gotten a few emailed thank-yous from writers whose books I've reviewed and I thought that was a nice touch, it let me know they actually read/received them through the publicists.

spyscribbler said...

The electric company around here mailed out thank you cards to all customers who paid their bills on time the whole year.

I was pretty shocked and delighted, too!

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this one. I'm writing letters and thank yous to people in snail mail again. Of course, it's to a select few, but I don't want this form of communication to fall by the wayside. I think a greater part of the person is in the handwritten thanks. I just wrote a note like that to my agent recently - and for no real reason, other than commemorating Thanksgiving. :)

Virginia Miss said...

Jessica, I'm with you. I've always sent a thank you following an interview, and I always will, no matter how old-fashioned it makes me look.

A few years ago I was job hunting, and I didn't hear back from many prospective employers. I deplore the lack of manners inherent in those business practices.

When I oversaw HR for a call center, we interviewed over a hundred candidates each month, and we sent each one either a written job offer or a rejection letter.

Kathleen Irene Paterka said...

I feel compelled to wade into this timely topic. Thank you, Jessica, for bringing up this subject. I am one of those who still send Thank You notes - even for rejection letters. I agree with Amy M. Any time someone gives you feedback - any type of feedback - that is a good thing. Someone has taken the time to let you know what they think. Why not take the time to extend a small courtesy and let them know you appreciate their input.

The only rejection letter I chose not to send a "thank you" note on was a form rejection letter from a well-known agent which included the phrase "I know, form rejection letters suck." I stared at that sentence, and thought to myself, "Thank goodness she sent me a rejection letter. I have no desire to be represented by someone who uses the word 'suck' in a business letter." If she chooses to send correspondence like that, what type of relationship does she have with editors / other agents in the publishing field?

Which reminds me of something else I've heard time and again re: publishing. This is a very small world, and the things you do / say can come back to haunt you. Wouldn't it be better to be remembered by someone for a kindness you paid them, rather than not be remembered at all?

Good manners are not dead. Parents of the world need to unite on this issue and start teaching their children. I don't know about all of you, but that's where I learned - at home.

-Kathy P.

jolinn said...

so anyway...I hate not getting thank-you notes, and I taught my children to send them, but personal thank yous and job rejection letters are different.

Job rejection letters have the potential to become lawsuits. What happens if someone takes your comments or form letter the wrong way? It's better and safer to call with good neews, then to call with potential libel, or send written proof that maybe you can't get your foot out of your mouth, or maybe your lawyer didn't vet your form reject. Sure it's horrible, but like that old saw..."it's a liability issue."

BookEnds, LLC said...

Jolinn:

That's an interesting observation, but by that reasoning literary agents and publishers should also stop sending rejection letters, and especially personal rejection letters. I can't imagine anything more potentially damaging then actually giving feedback on a person's manuscript. However, I refuse to believe that a postcard that says something like, "thank you for your time we have chosen another candidate. Good luck on your future endeavors." would be a liability.

I do see your point and suspect that is one of the reason companies have stopped (the other is probably cost cutting), but I think that's just an excuse and a weak one at that, for poor manners.

--jessica

Buffy said...

You've just reminded me...I've a handful to send out.

Anonymous said...

I've always been intrigued how companies seem to have a problem dealing with rejecting an applicant head on. I do find it the rare situation indeed where the rejection letter contains the writers direct dial phone number, but it has happened. Nevertheless, I have my own 800 number at home so when they called me to scheduled the interview, I captured their phone number even if it was blocked. Then, its my turn.